George Starostin's Reviews



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Mike Healy (21.08.2004)

It's funny you mentioning Greg Lake and John Wetton in the same sentence with Asia, because Lake replaced Wetton for the band's December 1983 MTV live special from Japan called Asia In Asia. Wetton eventually returned to the band, but I don't think their credibility really recovered with the personnel changes, and by the time Steve Howe was replaced, interest in the band evaporated, and it was all downhill ever since. I don't think these guys really ever quite washed the tar-and-feathers splashed on them for their involvement in Asia, let alone the related bands that came after in the 80's, such as ELPowell, GTR and 3 (with To The Power Of Three...God help us!). Geoff Downes still continues to kick the dead horse to this day with various lineups featuring anonymous guys filling in, and the occasional famous drummer who had nothing better to do that day. I don't know anyone who ever kept up with these guys, despite a plethora of live and "rarities" and best-of collections that has come out in the last dozen years.
P.S. The live show with Lake was available on video (titled "Asia In Asia"), but I'm sure that it's long out of print, but there is a CD of it out there

Bob Josef (15.03.2006)

Now, I know I'm getting REALLY nitpicky about a band that nobody really cares about nowadays, but I really think that you need to reclassify Asia in the arena rock department, rather than synth-pop. Synth-pop, IMHO, has two very specific characteristics. The first is a dominamce in the arrangements of, well, synthesizers. Guitars, if present, are very muted at best. Synths, of course, are everywhere in Asia's music, but they don't necessarily come to the fore in the arrangements, partially due to Downes's limited playing ability. Certainly, guitars and drums are as audible in the mix as the keyboards.
Secondly, synth-pop generally uses rhythm sections that are very mechanical and one-dimensional. If the rhythm parts aren't played by drum machines and bass synths, they sound like it. With Palmer in the band, Asia almost never kept a straighforward beat - his drum parts were fairly flexible or all over the place, and his successors tried to pretty much follow his lead.
If you listen to some of the post-Howe albums, in particular, like Live in Moscow or the (really awful) Aria, Asia sounds not like the Buggles or Duran Duran, but rather like they're going after the Journey or Boston (who MCA paired them with in a very odd anthology) audience. So, I submit that Asia is an arena rock band with some synth-pop and prog overtones, rather than a synth-pop band. The defense rests...


Eric Balzer (12.08.2004)

There is a definite reason they called themselves "Asia." I read that they did some research and thought that if a band and an album title began with the letter A it would have a better chance of reaching the top of the charts. You'll notice that all their albums start with letter A. Clever boys.

Bill Slocum (31.08.2004)

I'm really glad you got around to these guys, as delayed as it was (and as delayed as they were; Asia really should have broken out a couple of years before they did, instead of being nearly buried on the pop charts by the likes of "Tainted Love" and "Don't You Want Me," which was sort of what happened to them in the spring of 1982, even with their first single "Heat Of The Moment" making it to #2 in the U.S.)
I thought it was funny you wrote "fortunately for all of us, this ain't 'George Starostin's Album Sleeve Reviews' you're browsing through at the moment." Because, as anyone who was there in 1982 like me knows, the coolest thing about the band, from the very beginning with their debut album, was those awesome album covers. What the hell is that thing on the cover of Asia, anyway? The Loch Ness Monster playing water polo? I don't know, but it was pretty cool then, when I played "Dungeons & Dragons" in my friend's basement to the virtual exclusion of any future reproductive possiblities, and all these wasted years later, I admit it still looks cool now, not so much as the cover of their next album Alpha (which was more "Gamma World" than D&D, that being even more embarrassing to admit to), but pretty cool still. By the way, they were still making album covers like that all the way until 2004's Silent Nation, not that you will ever bother to review every album up to that, or should.
But the songs are good. I don't get your enthusiasm for "Cutting It Fine" over the rest. Frankly, I think "Heat Of The Moment," hit as it was, was a pretty pure surging power-pop-art-rock-anthem, right up there with the finest from ELO and the Moody Blues. I like "Sole Survivor" very much, too, and don't think "Wildest Dreams" is at all bad. It kind of plays to the same castles-and-majestic-battlements fantasy aesthetic that the rest of this album uses, but that goes with the album cover and doesn't feel cheesy, just nostalgic for the ethos of ancient days. Not that I think it's exulted, particularly, especially at this adult remove in time, but it's sort of fun. Plus, it's the one song where "Asia" is mentioned in the lyrics.
Yes, the hits are great, and like you I think "Sole Survivor" is better than "Only Time Will Tell." Only I think that "Time Again" is pretty terrific, too. I mean, yes, it's got this half-proggy, half-twee "Dungeons & Dragons" aethetic, but if that sort of thing negated great art those "Lord Of The Rings" films wouldn't be anything special now, would they? Plus, "Time Again" does have some pretty fancy keyboard riffs in its favor, don't it? Not nearly as bombastic as what Yes would have done, actually kind of fun and clever because Geoff Downes seems to avoid that trap. Really, his cleverness at the keyboards didn't begin and end with "Video Killed The Radio Star," and the proof is here.
Asia's not a great album, but it's more than a historic curio. I like Asia, and wish they had done more with the aesthetic of their first album. Just because I outgrew D&D doesn't mean they had to do the same. After all, they were the ones making money from the proposition, weren't they?

Jason Saenz (02.09.2004)

Wait a minute, I thought ASIA were new wave-prog, not synth pop. ASIA debut is one of those albums that is not really essential in your collection, much less in an album review page but boy am I glad you are starting a review on these dudes. I take it back, I guess you could call ASIA synth pop but I dont think that ASIA and the rest of bands in this category go together, ASIA does have instrumental virtuosos, thats the difference between ASIA and the rest on this synth pop category. Now back to the album, I agree with the rating, even though all the songs pretty much sound the same there all beautiful and melancholic 80's style. Most people tag this album as all filler but I dont really agree, it's just monotonous but very pleasent. I dont agree with your best song preference, I say 'SOLE SURVIVOR' is best but really it all depends on the mood. Good review George, you hit all the important aspects of this album and you are totally right about Howe's presence on this album, it would of been better if he would of shown himself more.


Bob Josef (15.03.2006)

Actually, I disagree -- I really think that this is the worst of the three Wetton studio albums. First off, the production sounds terrible. Very murky -- Howe, in particular, is buried in the mix. And secondly, the songwriting has taken a major dip. "Don't Cry" is an attempt to be bouncy - but this band (especially Palmer) is NOT GOOD at bouncy. Even REO Speedwagon would have rejected this trite piece of junk. "The Heat Goes On", with that organ solo, sounds utterly generic, like a Foreigner track. And misogyny permeates most of the rest of the lyrics, from "My Own Time" to "Eye to Eye" (although Downes actually said that the latter song started as a dig at Trevor Horn -- notice the Buggles-like staccato keyboard quote). Two of these songs were actually previewed on the support tour for the first album. Live, Wetton was accompanied by only Downes on a wimpy electric piano on "The Smile Has Left Your Eyes." Totally cloying and sappy. On the album, all "Asia'd" up, it doesn't sound quite as bad. "Midnight Sun" was also played, and it gets my vote for the best song. More abstract and the closest to prog than any of the other tracks.
I certainly understand why the album sold less, although I find it strange that Wetton got the blame for this. Greg Lake sounded great filling in for the Asia in Asia show -- too bad they couldn't keep him.
Two more B-sides surfaced at this time. "Daylight," the "Don't Cry" flip, is a rather undistinguished rocker, but better than the A-side. "Lying To Yourself" (the only Howe co-write from this period) was recorded just after the album sessions and put on the flip of "..Smile..", but it wasn't all that great, either.


Bob Josef (15.03.2006)

Now, I actually think this is a big improvement, despite the absence of Howe (replaced by Mandy Meyer, from a Swiss hard rock band called Krokus). For one thing, the production is so much clearer - -you can actually hear everyone's parts well. And at least Downes uses enough of his production tricks to make Meyer sound like a version of Howe at his weakest. I do hate two songs, but the not the same two that you hate! I actually detest "Suspicion" and "Wishing" (floated as a second single), which show Asia pandering to adult contemporary radio at its worst. However, I am sucked into to the drama of "Voice of America" and "Rock and Roll Dream." In the latter, Downes makes good use of his patented Buggles staccato chords, as he does on "Too Late," a very catchy track that got a bit of radio play. I should by rights also hate a corny ballad like "Love Now Till Eternity," but the guitar strumming and, again, dramatic chorus, work for me here, also. The lyrics show more variety than either of the previous albums, and the hooks are everywhere. "Go" is indeed the best track, worthy of a place on the debut. I personally thought this album had enough going for it for the group to carry on, but I guess I was in the minority.
The Then and Now anthology was the first place that an outtake from the sessions, "Am I In Love?", showed up. An even weaker, wimpier, AC ballad than "Suspicion" or "Wishing.", complete with awful strings (unlike the cool orchestration on "Rock and Roll Dream"). Smart move for them to leave if off the album.

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